Located on U.S. 52 at Big Four, four miles east of Welch, Starland Theatre opened on July 6, 1950. In 1949, Weldon Cook of Man and Robert Livingston Russell Sr. of Bluefield formed the Cook-Russell Theater Corp. and built Starland. When completed, their drive-in had speakers for 450 cars and featured six different movies a week. Starland was McDowell County’s first drive-in and one of 14 movie theaters in the county. In the mid-1950s, 76 drive-ins operated in West Virginia.
As with many drive-ins, the Starland was geared toward family entertainment, with a merry-go-round, children’s train, miniature golf course, playground, and snack bar. In the early years, it was open every day from late March through mid-November. The most popular night of the season was the Fourth of July, when up to 600 cars squeezed into the drive-in, and spectators parked on U.S. 52 and at the nearby airport to view the Starland fireworks display.
McDowell County’s declining coal employment and falling population, and the coming of television and later videocassettes, determined Starland’s fate. The theater closed on May 31, 1986. In the 1970s and ’80s, most of the other drive-ins throughout the state also closed.
In May 2000, the property was sold to the county’s domestic violence organization, Stop Abusive Family Environments (SAFE). The nonprofit group built low income housing on the site, now named Starland Heights.
Last Revised on October 29, 2010
Keller, Michael. Going to the Drive-in. Goldenseal, (Summer 1995).
Tuckwiller, Tara. Living in Starland. Sunday Gazette- Mail, 7/1/2001.